BLOG: How would boundary changes affect the south of Scotland?

David Mundell's constituency could see big changes. Credit: Boundary Commission
  • The single thin blue line shows David Mundell's current constituency
  • The purple highlighted area shows David Mundell's proposed new constituency

South of Scotland Tory MP David Mundell's constituency is set for radical change under plans unveiled today by the Boundary Commission.

Mr Mundell's seat of Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale will lose Peebles and Innerleithen but gain an area of South Lanarkshire including the towns of Forth and Lanark.

The new Westminster constituency, called Clydesdale and Eskdale, will stretch more than 70 miles from Gretna near the border with England to Carluke, under eight miles south-east of Motherwell.

Mr Mundell, who is also Secretary of State for Scotland, told me that he welcomed the work of the Boundary Commission but would "reflect" on whether the plans proposed a "coherent new constituency".

The proposed changes leave the other two existing seats in the south of Scotland largely unchanged.

Innerleithen moves into the Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk constituency, currently held by the SNP's Calum Kerr.

There would be comparatively minor changes to the Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk constituency. Credit: Boundary Commission
  • The thin blue line shows the current constituency boundaries
  • The green highlighted area shows how the new Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk constituency would look
  • The blue highlighted area shows how a new Midlothian and Peebles seat would look

There are only small changes to the Dumfries and Galloway constituency, held by the Nationalist's Richard Arkless, losing the town of Moniave to the new Clydesdale seat.

Only minor changes to the Dumfries and Galloway constituency. Credit: Boundary Commission
  • The thin blue line shows the current constituency boundary
  • The green highlighted area shows the proposed new Dumfries and Galloway constituency, without the town of Moniave

A new Midlothian and Peebles seat shakes things up, taking in an area from the southern outskirts of Edinburgh down to the countryside just north of Moffat.

A new constituency for the south of Scotland. Credit: Boundary Commission
  • The blue highlighted area shows a proposed new constituency for the south of Scotland, called Midlothian and Peebles

The proposals from the Boundary Commission for Scotland are part of a move to cut the number of MPs at Westminster from 650 to 600.

In Scotland the number will be reduced from 59 to 53.

The Commission was given the task of making sure constituencies were all roughly the same size in terms of the numbers of people who live in them - within five percent of a quota, 74,769.2 to be precise.

Each constituency was not to exceed 13,000 square kilometres.

Boundary changes for the south of Scotland. Credit: Boundary Commission

The proposals are just that and the Commission is stressing that it is open to the public as well as the political parties to make suggestions of changes, of boundary and constituency names.

Political parties and the public will be treated equally, the Commission says.

The final say on the plans will lie with the Commons and the Lords with Labour threatening to reject them as across the UK it is set to lose out to the Tories.

As the plans were released under an embargo yesterday all the political parties were looking at what effect it would have on them.

According to Scotland's foremost electoral academic, Professor John Curtice of Strathclyde University, if last year's general election were replicated the SNP would lose four seats across Scotland, the Conservatives one, and Labour one.

That one Conservative seat would be Mr Mundell's under the new boundaries as he would inherit areas in the Clydesdale area which are not naturally Tory voting.

Mr Mundell held his seat at the last UK election by 798 votes over the SNP. Prof Curtice told me:

The new Clydesdale and Eskdale seat looks as though it would have been won by the SNP rather than by the Conservatives, primarily as a result of the extension of the seat further north into Clydesdale.

The Berwickshire seat would certainly still be very tight, but the boundary change is quite small - addition of just under 3,000 voters - and in so far as it is possible to tell the area added to it is not particularly good for Conservatives or bad for the SNP.

– Professor Curtis, Electoral Academic

Mr Kerr won his seat by an even smaller majority of 328 over the Tories.

Mr Arkless had a comfortable majority of 6,514 over the Tories.

Mr Mundell - speaking in his party not government capacity - told me that he supported the idea of cutting the number of MPs.

But he added:

Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweedale worked well as a constituency. It will now be split five different ways. I am going to reflect on what alternative there might be to the proposals, and I would ask people locally to take part in that. The crucial question is whether the new constituency is a coherent new constituency, that is very important.

– David Mundell MP

One of the most notable proposals in the rest of Scotland is that the current Edinburgh South constituency - Labour's only seat north of the Border - would disappear.

Scottish Labour’s Westminster spokesperson Ian Murray, who holds the seat, said:

These Tory proposals to redraw constituency boundaries are unfair, undemocratic and unacceptable.

– Scottish Labour’s Westminster spokesperson Ian Murray

Both Labour and the SNP will be drawing attention to what they say are the double standards of the Conservatives in creating more costly members of the House of Lords while claiming to want to save money with fewer MPs.

Mr Kerr told me he was looking forward the opportunity to represent additional communities in the Scottish Borders.

But he added that with scrutiny of the UK government's Brexit plans the priority for the Commons he did not believe now was the time to reduce the overall number of MPs.

Mr Kerr added:

Rather than fixating on the number of MPs we should be looking at a fairer electoral system and reforming the unelected House of Lords.

With over 800 members the Lords is actually the second largest legislative chamber in the world. If we’re looking at downsizing in Parliament that would be the obvious place to start.

– Calum Kerr

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